My husband was on a “penetration testing” course yesterday. Despite the double entendre title, it was pretty serious and beneficial to his work. However, the last session defeated him. The presenter used so many acronyms and abbreviations in his talk that he had no idea what was going on.
It reminded me of my first secondary music teaching job. My Head of Department refused to talk about keyboards and adaptors – they were PSR 175s and YPT 210s. For two years. And I never remembered which code applied to which appliance.
Why do people feel the need to do this? In the case of the speaker yesterday, I think it was that he wanted to make himself look important. If you sound like you know more than the people you are talking to, they will have respect. Or will they?
With my old Head of Department, I now realise that it was because she felt threatened. Whether this was conscious or unconscious, she had a junior to manage and she was damn well going to put her in her place. And she did. Time and time again. Perhaps I needed taking down a peg or two, but I certainly haven’t had the same level of confidence as I had before that job. She enjoyed keeping me in the dark.
A friend was telling me about how the alpha males in their group like to leave “stingers” for each other. Rather than building their friends up, they make a seemingly innocuous comment in order to attack the self-esteem of another man. One man will complain that his 4-year-old has been grumpy about doing homework, but will drop an “innocent” remark about said 4-year-old’s reading age of 10 when another says they can’t get their child to read before bed. And so it goes on.
So, how can we be disarm people who are feeling threatened, particularly when they don’t know it themselves?
- Play them at their own game. If I was in that teaching job now, I think I would enjoy using the product numbers for everything we used. Glockenspiels: 60727. White board markers: 9.127.292. Hopefully she would have seen sense and realised that this wasn’t the way to form a good working relationship.
- ELI5: I no longer mind having things explained to me like I was a 5-year-old. (No, I didn’t know that abbreviation before researching for this post…) Come on, cut out the smart use of language, and tell me in words of one syllable what you mean.
- My Dad used to think that text messages were charged by the letter, rather than him having 144 characters before paying for a second message. He used to cut every vowel and unnecessary consonant. We needed to develop the skills of those at Bletchley Park to work out where we were going to meet. He still uses “lol” as a term of affection, even though he knows most people are use it to indicate laughter. He doesn’t allow us “young people” to dictate his abbreviations!
- Charm to disarm. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Be nice – and try to mean it. Being sweet often gets better results than being sour. If you try to work out why the other person is behaving in this way, you may find a compassion within you that helps both of you to improve your relationship.
- Use humour. To make work more interesting, my husband and his colleagues had a file in their office called the Titus Bramble. It was during the time football stickers were given away in packs of Walker’s crisps, and every item in the office seemed to have a striker or goalie on it. The stapler was known as the Robbie Savage. Apparently I should have heard of these soccer stars…
Unlike my work situation, the others in my husband’s office removed each other of the names and weren’t kept in the dark. They found it even funnier when people from the Irish and American offices came over to be trained up and didn’t have a clue who the footballers were. The new members of staff were included in the silliness and encouraged to join in. Allowing people to join in and feel a part of things, rather than being on the outside, can build bridges rather than walls. Bridges can help us all to be happier in the long run.
What are your strategies for disarming tension?
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